Tag Archives: Italy

A Fruit Trail: From Market to Orchards, Sondrio Valley.

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A Fruit Trail: From Market to Orchards, Sondrio Valley.

One morning in August, as we drove through the towns of Sondrio valley, Northern Italy, the pristine scenery of rugged hills and terraced slopes seemed like a perfect holiday spot. As we drove through the quaint towns, occasionally we spotted children on bicycles, old men at street corners, cigars in hand , adjusting their seats to catch the morning sun. Weekend had made the town of Valtellina very quiet. Till…… we suddenly stumbled upon a market!

‘Stop, stop.  looks like it’s the weekend market.’I pleaded to hubby. ‘ A great place to pick up fresh fruit and bread for our drive up the terraced slopes, in search of our dream stay. ‘ Oh! it’s your blog again’ laughed hubby.

A burst of activity  unfolded: Vans offloaded fruit carts, women walked briskly with straw baskets, plants and pots arranged on the street corner, a giant van with cheese in 20 different varieties was screaming for attention. And the season’s fresh plump fruit was literally waiting to be devoured……rather ‘be bought’ Orange, yellow, purple and green. The Sondrio valley market was a hum of activity and riot of colour!

Province display board

Province display board

This summer, the fruit studded the market : Nectarines, plums, persimmons, apples, kiwi fruit , tomato and pears. It all arrives from nearby towns of Valmalenco, Morbedo, Pegdirino in the Lombardy region. ‘Up there…along the slopes….’ said the lady pointing to the fertile region. The town itself borders the Swiss Alps, and is blessed with cool summers and mild winters. Valtellina abounds in vineyards and apple orchards, making it a popular home for the Lombardy nobility and rich farmers. Stall holders spoke mostly in French and Italiano – they were helpful in guiding us to the valley’s apple orchards.

Trays of delicate, frilly mushrooms caught my eye. ‘How do you eat this? I inquired. ‘They are lightly buttered and sautéed before adding them to a pasta dish. And you must eat our local tagliatelle pasta – its’ called Pizzocheri’. I quickly scribbled the name on a piece of paper, knowing my memory would fade quickly this was almost a tongue twister pasta name, I thought to myself.

Fresh fruit stall

Fresh fruit stall

Have you wondered where the Swiss cows feed ? And how many litres of milk make a kilo of cheese? To see a cheese factory, I would have walk up to the Swiss Alps as early as 3 am to see cheese making! Or else, join a tour guide and stay at the farms. Hmm…maybe next time. Till then, we settled buying a variety of cheese slices to nibble along the way. ‘Goat milk or buffalo milk?’ inquired the lady. Did we understand the difference? I smiled. Well, the taste and density differs, I learned.

And thus began the trail from the market to the fruit orchards.

We drove up into the hills, twisting and turning into small towns, stopping to admire bunches of red apples that peeked through branches, sometimes hanging in clusters of 4-5, weighing the branch down. Hundreds of apple trees in rows after rows, green red-brown – The colours of Nature. Apples, apples everywhere..on the branches, on the floor and crates full at corner stalls and markets.

Finally, we halted at the Agri Turissimo  lodge. Every moment rewarded with scenic views and fresh Italian meals. Our hosts: Frederika, Mirco and Deborah made us feel comfortable and personally cared for. The dining area ambience was created with a fire chimney and old traditional wood furniture. Sparkling wine glasses at the bar with candle lights created a romantic evening setting. The beauty was of course outdoors: one could sit on the wooden benches, admire the backdrop of mountains and sit nestled in the apple orchards.  Truly natural.

Home stay - Agri Turissimo

Home stay – Agri Turissimo

Misty walks in the morning into the fruit orchards were a perfect way to learn about the soil, annual flowering /fruiting time and fertilizer requirements. Before winter, its time for fruit plucking and sorting. This would be done entirely by hand. Coperatives collect fruit from each farmer and pack it for storage and distribution. Excess (low quality) apples are often sold in local town markets. Dozens of spoilt fruit litter the ground.

Orchard of green apples

Green apple orchard, Northern Italy

The valley’s slopes are man’s testimony to the use of rough land. History notes how travelling monks cleared the woods, terraced the rugged slopes, irrigating them and planting rows of vineyards. The region, since then, produces the best wine in Italy ! Only the south-facing slopes receive the summer sunshine – making it much sought after by the nobility and rich farmers.

Kiwi fruit in orchard

Kiwi fruit in orchard

Our hosts, Mirco and Frederika took us around their vineyards, and shared stories on a new hobby: bee-keeping . In summer they keep lined wooden boxes out in the woods, where flowers are blooming. Bees gather honey and buzz into the box. Honey is collected and stored in bottles, sold at the lodge and the local markets.

Bee keeper - at the Agri Turissimo lodge

Bee keeper – at the Agri Turissimo lodge

Fresh bunches of grapes hanging from trailers. The region is home to best wine!

Vine trailers with abundance of Grape bunches

Vine trailers with abundance of Grape bunches

A magazine  highlighting the various grapes and the history of cultivation in Valtellina.

Information about Grapes for wine making, Sondrio valley

Information about grapes used in wine making, Sondrio valley.

Co-operative display boards for the Melavi Apple in the orchards. Some fruit makes its way to local markets, and neighbouring towns. Adjacent towns hold markets on different days of the week, thus sustaining cooperation and community approach to farming. Women often exchange recipes and social networking, they set up stalls with home-made jams, tomato sauce, honey and fruit tarts. Isn’t is a great way to meet new people and get to know the town people? We did just that…town hopping for dinner, sourcing popular local restaurants off the main streets.

Co-op Fruit market board

Co-op Fruit market board

Having completed a trail from the market to the fruit orchards, from the honey bottles to bee keepers and savouring fruit tarts made by local women, it was time to say Ciao – goodbye to Nature’s bounty in Sondrio.

I leave  you with an Italian quote we heard during our holiday:

Chi lavora mangia, Chi non lavora mangia, beve e dorme (Who works, eat. Who doesn’t work, eat, drink and sleep)

Have you ever stayed at an Agri -Tourist accomodation? What was your experience?  

 

 

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Postcards from Piazza delle Erbe, Italy

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Postcards from Piazza delle Erbe, Italy

If you are dreaming of a historic market square, cobbled pavements, monumental buildings and romantic side-walk cafe….then….THIS is it!

Verona, Piazza delle Erbe (market square of herbs) is a European market square, certainly with its own identity. Not only can you find fresh fruit and flower stalls during the day, but by night it’s doubles as romantic place, tinkling with light bulbs hidden beneath the canopy of umbrellas. Tourists throng this medieval city, all year round. None ever leave without setting foot on the Piazza. So what makes it unique? My postcards tell you stories.

Postcard: 1

Verona is often called ‘City of Love.’ Shakespeare’s love story of Romeo and Juliet was set here. Like hundreds of tourists, we too visited the courtyard of this 13th century house, Casa de Guilietta, belonging to Capello family to get a glimpse of Juliet’s balcony. A short walk from there, along the narrow cobbled Via Manzini led us to grand open Piazza! During the 14th century, the Romans gathered at this square to trade and communicate with neighbouring states. From here were  conducted forums and municipal communes. Later chariot races were held …hear that trot,trot,clump,clump and roaring crowds? Finally, it became a trading area for fresh herbs (Italian Erbe for herbs) and seasonal fruits and vegetables.

Casa de Guilietta - Juliet's castle, Verona

Casa de Guilietta – Juliet’s castle, Verona

Postcard: 2

Affluent merchants and noblemen erected mansions around the square.They decorated the buildings with Roman columns, trellis-work on windows, elaborate floral motifs and period architecture. Today, the buildings rub each other literally, and in a colour competition. Orange, red, amber, pale white, yellow. Homes have turned into hotels or designer shops to keep them economically afloat. Yet! the aura and magnificence is exciting.

Bright coloured buildings surround Piazza delle Erbe

Bright coloured buildings surround Piazza delle Erbe

Postcard: 3

One important monument is the water fountain, dating back to 13th century. Created by Cansignorio, the Roman statue of the lady ‘ Madonna de Verona’ rises out of the ancient fountain base. Madonna is holding the city’s scroll in her hand. The sculpted figure dates back to 380 AD. Verona symbolizes wealth and beauty, in her human form. The fountain details with Roman figure heads, flowing beards and piercing eyes. Water spills forth from their mouth.

Tired tourists and hugging couples sat around the cool waters of the fountain. Children were running around, dancing in the light water sprays. The constant click – click of cameras reminded me of the present selfies technological age. Oh! I’d rather be witness to the click -click, trot -trot of horses’ hoofs, flowing Roman garments and piles of fresh fruit tumbling from wooden boxes into this historic market square!

Fontana del Madonna de Verona

Fontana del Madonna de Verona

Postcard: 4

As the summer sun dipped, the large white umbrellas suddenly came alive with bright lights. Such a romantic atmosphere! Stalls were brimming with souvenir bags, trinkets, scarves, aprons, bamboo hats, magnets, post cards and second-hand Italian fashion shirts.

Souvenirs on sale

Souvenirs for sale

Postcard: 5

See the red and green Pinocchio puppets dangling from the pole ? A must have souvenir from Italy for young children. Haven’t you heard the popular story of a mischievous Pinocchio and the poor carpenter Gepeto?

What do you think sold here in the 13 and 14 th centuries? Leather jackets, swords, Coat of Arms badges, cloth, antique jewellery?

Colourful souvenirs and tea cloths

Red and green Pinocchio puppets and Venetian masks

Postcard:6

Venetian masks have a long history. They were often worn in aristocratic Venice, to hide the wearer’s identity. With opulence, parties and decadent activities, it became vital for a disguise behind elaborate headgear and masks. Made of paper mache and adorned with beads, fur, feathers and riches of gold and silver, masks add glamour. Today, there is a revival Art masks are worn at carnivals, costume parties, theatre, or used as unique wall decorations. Don’t be frivolous and start a promiscuous party!

Venetian masks

Venetian masks

Postcard: 7

The Piazza had plenty of fresh summer fruit stalls. Apricots, strawberries, nectarines, grapes and melons. Dry fruits like Date, figs, plums and berries too. Italian cuisine uses lots of fruit ingredients in desserts like tarts, cakes and jams. There is an old saying ‘Good cooking begins at the market’ and Italian cooking relies heavily on fresh produce – fruits, vegetables, fish and olive oil. History tells us that the Romans traded pomegranates, olives, fish, wheat grain, lemons, winter cabbage and potatoes at this market.(Courtesy: Wikipedia).

Fruit stalls

Fruit stalls

Postcard:8

The tower or  Torre dei Lamberti, is another important monument. Its tower rises more than 84 metres in height, suddenly seeming to dwarf the high poles of the umbrellas. ‘Lift your head to the sky’ said a tourist…then you will see the clock on it. In 1779 the clock was added, and there are 2 bells on this tower. Torre de Lamberti, a piece of Romanesque Art, has withstood time and natural elements. Silently, like a grandfather, it has watched the market grow and change, as time moved on.

Piazza Tower behind market stall

Piazza Tower behind market stall

Postcard:9

The Casa dei Mercanti or Merchant’s Chamber was erected in 1210 and housed important merchant’s and meetings. Earlier made in wood, it was damaged in fire. Freshly renovated it stands at the corner picture-perfect in magnificent red stone, adorned by a portico facade of semi-circular arches and mullioned windows. ( Information courtesy: Wikipedia). The windows reminded me of the architecture style at Alhambra Palace, Spain and Mughal architecture in India. As you travel, you connect the dots of cultural influences, don’t you?

Historic buildings decorated with lights

Historic buildings decorated with lights

Postcard:10

Lastly, here is an Italian Ristorante menu card. Relax those tired legs and sit at one of those elegant cafe surrounding the market on all sides, just like all the tourists. Order a glass of Amarone or Prosecco wines, a regional speciality. Fancy some gnocchi or tagliatelle pasta? You cannot think of Italy, without food, it is central to the heart of Italians. You cannot think of food without a market! Bon Appetit.

 

                                                            A tavola non si invecchia. – Italian proverb.
Translation: At the table with good friends and family you do not become old.

(Courtesy: http://www.italymagazine.com/news/italian-quotes-about-food)

An Italian menu card

An Italian menu card

What do you think of my postcards and writing style? What was unique to this market? 

 

Veena S. and walktomarket.wordpress.com (2013 -2015) reserves the right to all content and photos for this personal blog. If duplicated or copied, kindly give credit to author Veena S. and blog: https://walktomarket.wordpress.com.